Tulsa Health Department

U.S. Department of Defense

The head of the Tulsa Health Department warns local COVID infections are increasing exponentially.

THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart told city councilors on Wednesday new cases roughly doubled every week this month, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. While Tulsa County has the state’s third-highest vaccination rate, Dart said it’s still well below what’s needed to suppress the highly contagious variant.

What is the Delta Variant, and how is it related to the novel Coronavirus? What exactly do we know about the rapid spread of the Delta Variant now happening in Tulsa County -- and across our state? And what's the relationship between this rate of spreading and Oklahoma's relatively low vaccination rate? Are there other Coronavirus variants out there -- either here in the US or worldwide? And when will American kids under the age of 12 be allowed to get vaxxed? Our guests on ST Medical Monday are Dr. Bruce Dart, Executive Director of the Tulsa Health Department, and Dr.

Tulsa Health Department

The Tulsa Health Department said Friday it had detected West Nile virus in a mosquito caught in one of its surveillance traps, the first confirmed carrier mosquito of the season.

Tulsa Health Department

The Tulsa Health Department announced Monday a new text message campaign targeting Tulsa County residents who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Text message reminders are proven effective for increasing vaccination uptake, and we are looking for creative ways to generate awareness and reach herd immunity,” THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said in a statement. “We expect that for those who are open to getting vaccinated but haven’t followed through, these types of reminders will be an effective nudge toward vaccination."

Tulsa Health Department

The Tulsa Health Department announced Wednesday afternoon that 1,150 patients who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this month through the department were given doses that were kept frozen for too long, resulting in the need for those patients to be revaccinated for full protection.

Pool photo by Mike Simons / Tulsa World

The Tulsa Health Department and Tulsa Transit have teamed up on a new idea to improve COVID-19 vaccine access.

Tulsa Transit riders who get vaccinated at one of three THD locations can show their bus ticket and get a free 10-day pass after their first dose and a one-day pass after their second dose. Manager of Emergency Preparedness and Response Alicia Etgen said six months into the vaccination effort, THD is still finding barriers to address.

City of Tulsa

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Thursday that while the city's mandatory COVID-19 mask ordinance will be expiring at the end of Friday -- including a requirement for food service employees to wear masks while working -- certain other restrictions will remain in place.

Mike Simons / Pool photo

The Tulsa Health Department’s COVID-19 Community Vaccination Center is off to a slow start.

The clinic opened last Wednesday at Tulsa Community College’s Northeast Campus in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Tuesday vaccinations are being given at a "very, very low" rate, falling far below the clinic's 3,000 shots per day capacity.

American Academy of Pediatrics

The Tulsa Health Department is adding the word "optional" next to the social security number field on its vaccine forms.

Leadership Tulsa Director of Programs Marcia Bruno-Todd said the change comes at encouragement from Hispanic Leadership Institute students who want more undocumented residents to get vaccinated.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Mayor G.T. Bynum said Thursday he believes allowing the city's COVID-19 mandatory mask ordinance to expire at the end of this month, as is currently planned, is the right move.

"Our hospital capacity is not in danger any longer," Bynum told reporters Thursday morning at an in-person press conference at City Hall, the first held that way in months, since COVID-19 briefings were moved all-virtual due to the severe surge in infections this winter.

The Tulsa Health Department recommended Friday the City of Tulsa can let its mask ordinance expire April 30, given current COVID trends.

THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said new cases and hospitalizations are at levels last seen in June, and more and more people get vaccinated every day.

"We’ll continue to scan the environment, watch the data and make the best recommendations to keep people safe. If that means recommending that we reinstitute our mask mandate, we would do that," Dart said.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

With the Oklahoma State Department of Health announcing Wednesday that non-Oklahomans are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the state system, the Tulsa Health Department said Thursday they're up to the job.

"We are happy to be administering the vaccine, really, to anybody who wants it, whether they are Oklahoma residents or those that are residents of another state but for some reason are in Oklahoma," said Ellen Niemitalo, THD clinical services manager.

"We're just excited to be able to administer the vaccine to anyone who is wanting it," she said.

The Tulsa Health Department announced Wednesday that individuals seeking to be vaccinated against COVID-19 now have three additional locations to choose from.

The department's James O. Goodwin Health Center, Central Regional Health Center and North Regional Health and Wellness Center are all now taking appointments via the state's vaccinate.oklahoma.gov portal, with vaccinations beginning there on Monday.

The Board of Tulsa County Commissioners is formally opposed to legislation that would give the state more power over the Tulsa Health Department.

The board unanimously passed a resolution Monday saying they are against House Bill 2504, which would make changes like banning THD from adopting regulations more stringent than the state health department and involving the state health commissioner in hiring local directors.

Tulsa Health Department

The Oklahoma House narrowly and on a largely urban-rural split passed a bill this week to give the governor power over the Tulsa and Oklahoma city-county health departments.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Ellen Niemitalo, clinical services manager for the Tulsa Health Department, spoke with Public Radio Tulsa's Chris Polansky by phone on Tuesday about the department's new COVID-19 outreach initiatives to minority communities in partnership with the Oklahoma Caring Foundation / Oklahoma Caring Van.

Pool photo by Mike Simons / Tulsa World

The Tulsa Health Department will not administer COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday because of inclement weather, but clinics on Thursday, Friday and Saturday will currently go ahead as planned.

Everyone with an appointment on Wednesday scheduled through the Oklahoma Vaccine Portal and everyone who received a first dose of vaccine Jan. 27 at Expo Square will be rescheduled for March 3.

The Tulsa Health Department announced Thursday it will cancel all COVID-19 vaccination operations scheduled through Monday due to icy roads and an expected snow storm.

“When we consider canceling, we don’t take that decision lightly and there’s a lot of thought that goes in to that decision,” said THD Division Chief of Prevention, Preparedness and Response Kelly VanBuskirk in a statement. “We know residents are anxious and ready to receive their first or second dose, however, it comes down to the safety of them and our staff.”

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, spoke with Public Radio Tulsa on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 10, about the department's cancelation of 2,000 vaccine appointments that day due to inclement weather. He also discussed how recently announced plans for a federal mass vaccination site for Tulsa County fell through.

Tulsa Health Department

Wednesday's icy conditions have led to the cancelation of all scheduled Tulsa Health Department vaccination appointments for the day.

"Due to inclement weather, the Tulsa Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Operations are CANCELLED today," the department said in a news release. "Those with appointments and those expected to return for their second dose today have been notified through email. They will receive a follow-up email with instructions regarding when their new appointment date and time will be. They do not need to reschedule through the Oklahoma Vaccine Portal."

Mike Simons / Tulsa World

Tulsa Health Department officials said Monday they’re keeping up with a request by the state to use COVID-19 vaccine allocations within seven days, but supply constraints continue to restrict efforts.

THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said they're managing supplies conservatively as a result.

Tulsa Public Schools

In a partnership between Tulsa Public Schools, the Tulsa Health Department and the Oklahoma Caring Foundation, more than 100 TPS employees received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Carver Middle School on Wednesday. 

"There was relief, for sure," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist, reached by phone on Thursday. "Gratitude. A lot of tears. I think that this has just been an extraordinarily stressful time for everyone, and certainly for those who do fall into these higher risk categories."

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Tuesday he's hopeful changes in the way the federal government apportions COVID-19 vaccine doses could be good news for Tulsa County.

"We think it'll be very impactful," Dart said on a virtual press update Tuesday morning. "Especially because we know we have quite a few private providers who have signed up to be distributors of the vaccine to their patients as well as pharmacies and urgent cares. We would have a much larger number of distribution points."

Tulsa Health Department

While the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Oklahoma is being universally celebrated by public health officials, health care workers and medical leaders, they are stressing that the immunizations won't have immediate impact on infection levels and vigilance is still necessary to prevent unnecessary transmission of the virus.

"It is here to stay, regardless of our vaccination process," said Dr. Jennifer Clark of the OSU Center for Health Sciences' Project ECHO faculty team. "Masking is going to be with us for probably the next year to two years until we get appropriately immunized."

The Tulsa Health Department will start administering the COVID-19 vaccine to selected health care workers on Tuesday.

That’s two days ahead of a schedule announced last week. Tulsa County received 5,850 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine in the initial shipment. The vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart and has been shown to be 95% effective.

American Academy of Pediatrics

The Tulsa Health Department anticipates it will start giving COVID vaccinations next Thursday.

That's dependent upon a Food and Drug Administration panel approving Pfizer's COVID vaccine, putting it in line to be shipped next Tuesday and received in Oklahoma the next day.

THD Clinical Services Manager Ellen Niemitalo said in consultation with the state health department, health care workers who care for COVID patients are first in line.

The Tulsa Health Department has updated its COVID-19 ZIP code risk map to reflect worsening local infection rates.

The new system adds four shades of red to help show increasing risk, with the darkest three dubbed Extreme Severe Risk, Extreme Severe Risk II and Extreme Severe Risk III.

Data from Oklahoma State Department of Health weekly epidemiology report; photo from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A major COVID testing lab is expected to keep open free testing sites in Tulsa and other population centers after the Oklahoma State Department of Health allocated an additional $5.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funding for it late Thursday.

IMMY Labs expected to stop offering free testing because it had run short on state funding amid a testing boom before Thanksgiving.

According to state data, IMMY Labs has run more than 10% of all COVID tests in the state since Nov. 1.

The sixth time was the charm for the Muskogee City Council to pass a mandatory mask ordinance to combat the dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections. After five failed votes in recent weeks, the measure passed Monday night 5-3. 

The vote came the same day that Muskogee County declared a state of emergency due to a sharp increase in coronavirus infections and the possibility of overwhelming the already strained hospital system even further.

City of Broken Arrow

Despite worsening COVID-19 numbers as the pandemic heightens to its direst point ever in Oklahoma and nationwide, the Broken Arrow City Council Tuesday showed little interest in pursuing the sort of mandatory mask ordinance passed by Tulsa, Jenks and Sapulpa, spending more time at their meeting asserting false claims about masks and the pandemic, and calling for more civility on "both sides" of the issue.

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